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Recent Teen Suicides Move Kensington Community to Gather for 'A Night of Hope'

Hundreds of teens, parents and community members turn out at church's Troy campus Sunday night for reflection and resources.

Hundreds of teens, parents and community members filled the auditorium of the Kensington Community Church's Troy campus Sunday night for a special service to help educate about and deal with teen depression, suicide and hope.

Directors of Edge, the youth arm of Kensington Church decided to turn  Sunday's regular service into "A Night of Hope," putting the focus on suicide and depression after a in downtown Birmingham early Monday morning. According to Kensington's Intern Director Jenny Warns, more local students have been talking about suicide since a .

"These kinds of incidents make students think deeply about life," said Warns, whose husband, Justin, is the high school director at Kensington's Birmingham campus at Groves. "We wanted to be a place to come together and remember those we've lost, but also celebrate life." 

Teens from all Kensington campuses, including Birmingham and Rochester Hills, came to the service in Troy by the busload.

Rochester junior Madelin Trumble is a regular at The Edge, and brought her friend, Tyler Martin, a freshman at Northwood University, to Sunday's service.

"Suicide is a real problem around here," Trumble said, "and it's really something the schools don't address."

Martin said that although he hasn't dealt with the suicide of a friend, he hoped Sunday's service helped those who needed it. "I'm hoping that that tonight can help inform people of what's out there," he said.

Help was provided in several forms Sunday night. Youth Leader Dan Sadlier kept students laughing throughout the evening during his service on Exodus, reminding teens they’re not alone in feeling trapped.

“I know you’re confused by stuff that’s going on,” Sadlier said. “I know you wonder if anybody cares.”

Between skits and jokes, the Edge service included testimonials from teens who have dealt with depression, live music and a chilling video testimonial of a Western Michigan University student who attempted suicide but survived and then devoted her life to the church.

The kind of thing that could happen to anyone

For Geoffrey Young, suicide is a subject most adults – parents, teachers or counselors – tend to ignore. While he hasn’t experienced the suicide of someone he knows, he said teenage depression — and its violent after-effects, such as drugs and gun violence — isn’t new.

“This kind of thing could happen any time, to anyone,” he said.

Warns said young people today are under more stress than ever, and it can be particularly heartbreaking when you hear of a 10-year-old who considered taking his life. “They’re under so much pressure, of course they’re going crazy,” Warns said.

During "A Night of Hope," dozens of counselors and support groups were on hand to provide plenty of resources to help teens find the help they need.

Karen and Hugh Hudson were at Kensington on Sunday evening with their Lake Orion-based support group, 1000 Conversations About Mental Health. After their son, Michael, committed suicide two years ago, the couple knew the best way to heal would be to help others. The group, Hudson said, seeks to tear down the stigma of suicide so young people and parents are more willing to talk.

Lake Orion students Breanne Dixon, Erin Feeney and Katie Grathem were there to talk to students about the group’s mission and pass out literature. Dixon said the group had only held a few fundraisers so far, but has connected with dozens of students who didn’t know where to turn for help.

Reaching out to those who need it most

“Suicide is a very dangerous thing and it’s a very real thing,” said Lee Gardner, the Auburn Hills-based therapist who spoke to parents after the service about ways they can help their children cope with depression.

Gardner told parents the story of Ethan, a young man who tried to kill himself during high school but survived and is now studying to be a youth counselor at Kensington. Stories like Ethan’s are rare, Gardner said, but the lessons he and Ethan’s parents learned can make other parents wiser.

Gardner suggested “TAPing” their children on a daily basis — talking to them, assessing any warning signs and praying for them.

“Instead of teaching to our kids, we need to be listening,” Gardner said. “They’re the ones who have all the answers to themselves. We just have to help pull it out of them.”

Warns agreed, saying the best way to help young people who are considering or confronting suicide for the first time is to listen and forge strong relationships.

“Do what you can to know people,” Warns said. “With a lot of these young people, especially girls, a lot of this depression stems from not feeling valued, not feeling loved, not feeling cared about. So, the more (young people) can do that for each other, you’re less at a risk for feeling isolated.”

Gardner gave parents a list of warning signs their teen might be suicidal, urging them to take everything seriously and to seek professional help for their child if they fear he or she might be suffering from depression. These signs include:

  • disinterest in a favorite activity
  • signs of substance abuse, whether drug or alcohol use
  • any new behavioral problems
  • any sudden or uncommon anger
  • withdrawing from family and friends
  • any change in their habits, including sleeping or eating
  • neglecting hygiene
  • concentration wanes
  • taking more risks
  •  preoccupation with death

Kensington also provided a list of resources for students and parents, including those that help young people across the country to counselors right down the street:

  • Suicide Hotline: 800-784-2432
  • Families Anonymous: 800-435-2027
  • Alcoholics Anonymous: 877-337-0611
  • Common Ground Sanctuary: 800-231-1127
  • Oakland Hills Counseling: 248-882-2631

At Kensington:

  • If you need a prayer for any situation, e-mail the Kensington team at prayernow@kensingtonchurch.org
  • Community Care Providers are always available to lend a listening ear and are the first point of contact when looking for more information at Kensington. To talk to a provider, call 248-786-0600.
  • Stephen Ministers are trained to provide Christian care for those in need. Call 248-786-0600 and ask for a Stephen Minister.

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